Winter carrots, one of the few local vegetables available right now, are best roasted. The oven heat blunts that firm crunch and the carrots shrivel pleasantly while the juices concentrate and become honey sweet, the edges burnished to a lovely caramel brown.
They’re so delicious simply plucked hot off the baking sheet that, in my kitchen, they seldom make it to the table. Practice restraint and you’ll find that they’re equally enticing at room temperature. They give some heft to cooked grain dishes and to salads where the mellow sweetness makes a fine foil to peppery greens.
Come summer we’ll see local rainbow carrots return to our farmers market stalls. But until then, our local carrots are orange varieties that have been harvested in the late fall and released from storage through the winter. These carrots actually taste better now than earlier in the year, as their flavors matured.
Turns out, Minnesota earth is better for growing carrots than the sandy soils in California and Arizona that require constant irrigation. This helps explain why our local carrots are far superior to any from the West Coast. Because this year’s harvest was especially bountiful, the local carrots you’ll find in our co-ops are still in their prime.
Good oil is the key to roasting carrots and other root vegetables. Local hazelnut oil is a great choice because its nutty flavor enhances the carrots’ taste. The American Hazelnut Co. in Gays Mills, Wis., presses local hazelnuts that are toasted first to deepen its character. Unlike olive oil, hazelnut oil can take high heat, so it’s great for sautéing and stir-frying, and makes a swell vinaigrette.
While some recipes call for blanching the carrots before roasting, I’ve landed on this easy, no-fuss technique. After tossing the carrots with a little oil and spreading them out on a baking sheet, cover the pan with aluminum foil for the first half of the cooking time and then finish roasting the carrots uncovered until they are nicely browned.
Carrots are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take them for granted. But once roasted, they can star in a wide range of dishes, so make a big batch. They will store for several days, covered, in the refrigerator, ready to toss with buckwheat noodles, or vegetarian curry, or to purée into a luscious ginger carrot soup. Let that sweet orange color and flavor shine.